The first meeting between the two sides could not come at a more pivotal time, being the first European semi-final in Celta Vigo’s history and a crucial opportunity for Manchester United to return to the Champions League after three seasons away from Europe’s most elite competition. Neither side has reached the Europa League final before and will be looking to enter the history books starting with Thursday night’s first leg in Galicia on the north west coast of Spain.
Celta Vigo have been in woeful league form, with a disappointing campaign seeing them 11th in La Liga and coming into the tie on the back of three consecutive defeats with only one win from their last six domestic games. That said, they have rested their star men for a number of those games with the Europa League providing a welcome distraction as they have beaten Genk and Krasnodar as well as shocking Shakhtar Donetsk to get this far.
Victories over Anderlecht, Rostov and Saint Etienne in the knock out stages of the Europa League have been more difficult than many expected, though they have been eased by a 23 game unbeaten run in the Premier League. However, two consecutive draws mean that fans haven’t had much to shout about in recent weeks, and Jose Mourinho will be looking for a positive result at Balaidos on Thursday night.
Celta Vigo predicted starting XI Manchester United predicted starting XI
Celta Vigo made a number of changes at the weekend to rest key figures such as Iago Aspas and John Guidetti but all are expected to return to the line-up to face Manchester United, including the former Liverpool and Manchester City duo.
Jose Mourinho faces some tough decisions, with the key one likely to be whether to field Matteo Darmian or Michael Carrick in central defence. Carrick defied expectations to play 180 minutes in three days last week and is unlikely to do so again this week, allowing Ashley Young to step in for Darmian on the left. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard will be competing for a place up-front with Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba both expected to return.
Reserve goalkeeper Ruben Blanco and left-back Carles Planas are the only key players missing for Celta Vigo with thigh and knee problems, whilst former United starlet Guiseppe Rossi will also miss out on the opportunity to play against his former side with a cruciate knee ligament injury likely to keep him out for the rest of the season.
United are facing something of a defensive injury crisis with Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly the latest players to join the list, though Bailly could make a return sooner. However, he is unlikely to feature on Thursday despite training on Wednesday. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones also returned to training alongside the Ivory Coast international but are unlikely to be risked after a prolonged spell on the sidelines. Marcos Rojo and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already been ruled out until well into next year, but fellow summer signing Paul Pogba could make a return on Thursday after a hamstring strain.
Score Prediction: Celta Vigo 1-1 Manchester United
It will likely be a cagey affair with neither side likely to risk anything in the first leg. United have struggled away from home at times and are unlikely to overwhelm Celta as some fans may expect, but their quality should be enough to see them return to the UK with plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
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